By his own accounts, Donald Trump is an amazing Christian… a proud Christian, possibly the most Christian candidate in the race. And his favorite book is the Bible. Sentiments of this sort may partly explain why Pope Francis opined that someone with Mr. Trump’s views is “not a Christian.” After all, the promised wall dividing the United States from Mexico is symbolic of a greater wall dividing Donald Trump from mere Christianity: that is, the great wall of a proud ego. It was that ego which allowed Mr. Trump the luxury of becoming the only major American candidate to attack the Pope rather than reflect upon himself. This trait plays well in the American land of individualism, where every man and woman is their own Pope, where authority is frowned upon, and where religious authority is considered a synonym for tyranny.
Thankfully for Mr. Trump, he is not running against the Pope, but rather looks poised to run against Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Secretary Clinton needs no introduction, and it is rather beside the point to attempt to define her for a wider audience. Those who venture to define Donald Trump will have an easier time of it because the vast majority of the electorate wonders just who he is and what kind of a President he may be. Conversely, few people wonder who Hillary Clinton is and what kind of a President she would be. Mrs. Clinton does not support building a wall between Mexico and the United States. We might be forgiven for asking ourselves: If favoring a wall is a sign of an impious soul, does that make Mrs. Clinton, who opposes it, a Christian?
To ask the question is to demonstrate how little Christian political thought animates the American presidential race. Of all of the candidates, only Senator Bernie Sanders has given a speech indicating a thoughtful understanding of Catholic political thought—and at the invitation of the Vatican no less. Protestants and Evangelicals especially will no doubt disagree with the narrow tone of this essay, which appears to squeeze Christian thought into Catholic thought, but it remains a fact that while both Mr. Trump and Senator Sanders could deliver speeches at Liberty University, only Senator Sanders could deliver a speech in the Vatican. Do we live in an age when a secular atheist is more Christian than a man who proclaims what a wonderful Christian he is?
By this point, some readers may well wonder why so much time has been devoted to the subject of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy posture towards the leader of a distant city-state in Rome. It should not be necessary, amongst Christian conservatives, to elaborate the point that if European Civilization is to have any chance at recovery, its center must shift from Brussels to Rome. It matters less what any particular Pope says about any particular issue, and far more that the nations of continental Europe regain the moral compass that Rome once provided. Rome is the ultimate solution to all of the problems plaguing Europe and Western civilization in general. Rome was the basis for enduring European union in ages past, and a European Union which continues to turn its back on Rome in favor of Brussels will continue to disintegrate. Americans concerned with the preservation and revival of Western civilization should worry about the fate of the continent where their civilization was born and not attack Rome.
Thus far Mr. Trump, like much of the European Right, has demonstrated a willingness to follow in the footsteps of the worst elements of the Left and attack Rome when it suits him. Protestants and Evangelicals may well argue that the recovery of Western Christian civilization is not synonymous with a return to Roman authority, and they may well be right insofar as Anglo-American civilization is concerned. For all the noise American conservatism makes over the Western heritage, it has never really cared much to engage the major component of the Western heritage: Catholic political theory and practice. In fact, the component of the Western heritage which is the true focus of practical American conservatism seems to be the enemy of conservative sensibilities: the Enlightenment and Reformation. The Christianity of Donald Trump is the embodiment of both of these currents. Whether or not they are truly conservative, let alone positive, is a matter of judgment.
Having said this, one must not make the mistake of thinking Mr. Trump’s probable opponent to be any better with regard to these issues. Secretary Clinton, while certainly not one to denounce the Pope in public, can hardly be counted upon to have given serious consideration to any of the important matters raised not only by Pope Francis, but by his many predecessors as well. If anything, Mrs. Clinton merely represents the left wing of the Enlightenment and Reformation while Mr. Trump represents its right wing. While rather indistinguishable at their core, they do have practical distinctions. If we believe the nestor of modern American conservative thought, Patrick Buchanan, America and the West are so far gone down the path of suicide that these distinctions matter little; America requires a St. Paul, not a Ronald Reagan. Still, while awaiting Divine Providence, citizens must make up their minds about the choices their democracy has produced for them. Mr. Trump is certainly no St. Paul. Is he at least a Reagan? Many will point to his crass and callous behavior and shout “no.” Others will point to his authenticity and claim he is indeed the sort of man the Gipper was: that is, his own man.
It would likewise be unfair to Mr. Trump were we to focus too much on the rather impolite forms he has adopted in expressesing the anger and anxiety of a growing number of Americans. To focus our ire upon Mr. Trump’s rage would be to ignore its source: the failure of the American political elite to deal effectively with the problems raised by illegal mass immigration, economic collapse, and military defeat. Mr. Trump is not the cause of these long festering problems, and it is in the interest of Mr. Trump’s enemies that all of us forget that they—not he—are to blame for America’s woes. If Mr. Trump offers severe solutions to these woes, it is only because an electorate long accustomed to America’s political elite ignoring it concerns and neglecting the common good has arisen at last in anger.
In modern America it is impossible calmly to debate the level of acceptable legal immigration and the criteria for granting legal status to immigrants because the political elite condones illegal immigration. It is impossible calmly to debate the level of acceptable American intervention overseas and the criteria for idealistic or realistic foreign policy because the political elite condones an imperial foreign policy of which power and vanity are perfectly acceptable components. It is impossible calmly to debate the level of acceptable international trade, to consider merits and demerits of various trade agreements because the political elite condones the practice by which corporate entities negotiate trade agreements in secret and then present Congress with bills which are to be voted up or down but not read or debated in public. Given such practices, it is little wonder why the people have grown angry with what the political elite finds acceptable and therefore condone Mr. Trump’s eccentricity as perfectly acceptable.
Insofar as this analysis is correct, Mr. Trump is not a threat to American democracy, but only a symptom of its utter failure and decline. When a people recognize that they have hit bottom, they know there is no fault in trying to get up using even the riskiest of means. The worst thing that can happen is that they will fall back down or even stay down permanently. Some careful men may caution that it is wiser to stay down and wait for fortune to change, but the impetuosity of the American spirit is not capable of accepting this. Americans instinctively reject such conservative advice. To stay down for fear of being put down is to put yourself down. Thus Mr. Trump’s successful slogan: “Make America Great Again.” Thus too the deplorable reality of an American republic in utter ruin, where the major Democratic party candidate needs to try to convince her fellow citizens that America is in fact a great country still.
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